5 genius phrases to make communicating your boundaries easier

Setting boundaries is a vital part of supporting our own wellbeing and mental health, and communicating those boundaries is a skill that might take some practice.

It sounds simple enough, but saying no doesn’t come easily for everyone. Especially if you’re empathetic or a people pleaser. Rather than feeling like it’s your inherent right to say no, sometimes it can feel rude, confrontational, or even downright wrong.

The truth is, it’s absolutely not wrong and it’s always okay to say no or assert a boundary. But there’s also nothing wrong with making that process a little easier on yourself. Here are a few ways to say no and avoid the drama and awkwardness.

The time buyer

Sometimes it’s not an issue of finding the exact right words, but of needing a moment to consider how you feel about something.

It’s easy to blunder your boundaries when you’re put on the spot and feeling the pressure of someone waiting for a response. Rather than getting tongue-tied or feeling rushed, you can simply say ‘I’ll think about that and let you know,’ which buys you some time. It works in a variety of situations, like invitations, requests for favours, and even loaded questions you need time to figure out your stance on.

It’s up to you how much time you take to respond. If it’s something simple and you just need a minute to process, you could excuse yourself and nip to the toilet or step outside for some air to give yourself a little space to form a response.

If it’s something bigger or more serious, you should allow yourself the time you need to think about it properly. If necessary, you could give the other person a timeframe and say something like ‘can I let you know tomorrow’ or ‘I’ll get back to you next week’. This manages their expectations while keeping communication open and allowing you time to decide what you want to say.

The shut down

While some boundary setting is simply a personal exercise of figuring out your wants and needs, other times you may need to let someone know they’ve said something unacceptable.

This is likely to feel challenging if you’re not comfortable with confrontation, but it doesn’t make you weak to want to avoid offending or hurting people’s feelings. So how do you shut something down without creating unnecessary drama?

This brilliant phrase comes from the Mary’s Cup of Tea Podcast, and is such a great suggestion that we had to share it. When someone says something over the line and you want to call them out without making a scene, you can say ‘That was a weird thing to say out loud’.

This genius phrase makes it immediately clear their comment didn’t vibe with you, while also being light-hearted and effective in shutting the conversation down pretty swiftly.

Saying something right away also helps with setting a boundary in place right from the off. The truth is, it’s often the repression of emotion and biting your proverbial lip that leads to outbursts and arguments later on. If you take the opportunity to shut something down while you’re calm rather than bottling up your feelings, you can usually nip things in the bud before they escalate and you feel more intensely about them.

Thanks to Mary for sharing this gem!

The LOL factor

This approach takes the edge off saying no and can even become an in-joke if you use it often enough. Quoting a celeb or character in a comedic way is a super easy and fun way to communicate a boundary or opt out without offending.

Think Simon Cowell ‘It’s a no from me’ or Phoebe Buffay ‘I would, but I don’t want to.’ It doesn’t really matter what the pop culture reference, as long as you’re able to say it with genuine humour and you’re not deflecting more serious feelings under the surface.

According to HelpGuide.org, humour is a useful tool that can ‘help you get past conflicts, disagreements, and the tiny aggravations that can build up over time.’ They explain that, as long as it’s used with respect, humour can turn conflict into an opportunity for bonding.

So don’t be afraid to go for the laughs instead of the ‘deep and meaningfuls’. It’s perfectly ok to keep things light while still being true to yourself.

The ‘no’ sandwich

This method is not so much a particular phrase, but a way of structuring a response. It involves saying something polite and respectful first, followed by the no or boundary, and then something else polite.

For example, to decline an invite or request you could say ‘It’s a great idea, unfortunately it’s not for me, but I appreciate the thought.’ Or to challenge an unacceptable comment you might use ‘I see your point but I don’t agree, though I respect your opinion.

This approach sandwiches the ‘no’ between softer sentiments designed to show respect for the other person. It might be helpful in the workplace where you need to maintain a level of professionalism, or when dealing with difficult family members or friends with different values. Even though we may disagree with someone’s point of view, sometimes it’s kind to show compassion while setting our boundaries, especially if that person has had different life experiences to us.

The straight up

This one is probably the simplest but also the hardest for many people. It’s perfectly ok to just say ‘no’ without the need to explain or apologise any further. But it really doesn’t always feel that easy.

We’re conditioned to mind our Ps and Qs, and have been taught that a simple ‘no’ without qualification is rude. It’s no wonder there are issues around consent! But actually, it really is ok to just keep it simple and you absolutely do not need to feel guilty about doing so.

If you find this really challenging, you could ask friends or loved ones to help you practise in everyday situations, such as ‘Would you like some tea?’ ‘No.’ It might seem silly, but just the act of saying no without the ensuing ‘thank you’ can help diffuse feelings of rudeness and awkwardness around it.

In reality, you probably won’t need to be this blunt in everyday life, and being polite is mostly a lovely thing. But if you ever need to assert a boundary in a more serious way – especially where consent is concerned – you should always feel empowered to ditch the politeness and say a straight up no.

Whatever approach you use to set your boundaries, remember that no is a complete sentence and it’s not your job to make other people feel comfortable with your response. Ultimately, their attitude is their business. Your business is staying true to you and taking care of your own feelings.

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